MOSCOW -- Russian leader Boris N. Yeltsin said yesterday that he had assured President Mikhail S. Gorbachev that he strongly supports the preservation of the Soviet Union and that his insistence on sovereignty for Russia is not aimed at undermining the U.S.S.R.
"We stand for a strong alliance with the U.S.S.R. and for a union treaty," planned as the basis for a renewed Soviet Union, Mr. Yeltsin told the commission drafting a new Russian constitution. "We are unquestionably in favor of the union."
In lengthy talks Sunday, their first substantial meeting since August, Mr. Yeltsin and Mr. Gorbachev agreed to appoint jointly a number of commissions to negotiate the disputes arising between the central Soviet government and the largest Soviet republic.
The commissions will decide how to divide the overlapping functions between Soviet and Russian authorities; how to divide property, such as factories in Russia that now report to central Soviet ministries; and how to divide Russia's natural wealth, which includes most Soviet oil, natural gas, gold and diamonds.
The commissions' proposals will become the basis for the union treaty, Mr. Yeltsin said.
The two men, both 59, tower over other Soviet politicians, but for different reasons: Mr. Gorbachev, for his role as initiator of momentous international change and domestic reform and for his popularity abroad; Mr. Yeltsin, for his role as rebel against his former colleagues in the top ranks of the Communist Party and for his popularity at home.
Since late 1987, when Mr. Yeltsin quit as Moscow party boss and candidate Politburo member to protest the slow pace of reform, his relations with Mr. Gorbachev have been strained or non-existent.
But since Mr. Yeltsin was elected chairman of the Russian Parliament in May over Mr. Gorbachev's loud objections, the Soviet president has been forced to swallow his personal feelings and negotiate.
The two leaders appeared to agree in September on a single, radical plan for a transition to a market economy. But Mr. Gorbachev, trying to meet the objections of Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai I. Ryzhkov and the powerful industrial bureaucracy he represents, abandoned the "500-day" plan for a general set of "basic guidelines."
The result was a name-calling match between Mr. Yeltsin and Mr. Gorbachev, followed by nearly a month's silence. Many prominent parliamentarians have said that nothing other than economic chaos and paralysis is possible without a truce between the two leaders.
Mr. Yeltsin's public comments yesterday, reported by the official Tass news agency, mark an apparent bid by him for a truce. But other remarks reported by him suggested that it was a limited bid.
Galina V. Starovoitova, a member of the Russian Parliament and a Yeltsin ally, told Radio Liberty Mr. Yeltsin had complained that the treaty Mr. Gorbachev signed with Germany last weekend involved Russian resources such as oil and had not been approved by Russian authorities.
Ms. Starovoitova also said Mr. Yeltsin was insisting on the preparation of written protocols on the agreements reached at Sunday's meeting. The Russian leader has accused Mr. Gorbachev of breaking an oral pledge to back the 500-day economic plan.
In an interview with Leningrad television recorded before the meeting but aired last night, Mr. Yeltsin said in an annoyed tone: "We'll meet one-on-one and clarify why he didn't keep his word on this, on this, on this -- on questions that we'd agreed on when we sat one-on-one for five hours" in August.
He also expressed considerable skepticism that a union treaty can be concluded in the near future. Instead, he suggested speeding the process of signing two-way treaties between republics and between enterprises. Such a system is more achieveable than a treaty among most of the current 15 republics.
The remarks underscored the differences between Mr. Yeltsin's notion of a strong union and, say, Mr. Ryzhkov's. Mr. Yeltsin sees the future U.S.S.R. as an economic union held together by mutual market relations and with little political power left in the center. Mr. Ryzhkov hopes to preserve a strong central bureaucracy with its own political clout.
Mr. Gorbachev usually appears to lean toward Mr. Ryzhkov's vision of a "strong center," but on occasion seems to accept that such a model is doomed and to be moving toward the Yeltsin view.
In what Mr. Yeltsin described in his television interview as "the battle for the power of Russia," he received a boost yesterday from the Moscow City Council.
The governing body of the country's capital and biggest city, with about 10 million residents, endorsed Russia's self-proclaimed sovereignty. The council backed the idea, championed by Mr. Yeltsin and declared officially by the Russian Parliament, that Russian laws take priority over Soviet laws.